It won’t be long until people flock to New England for summer vacation. The Boston Red Sox have gotten a head start on the season with a roller coaster ride for the ages.
The Sox went to Cleveland on Monday riding a seven-game winning streak – but that came to an end in a 3-2 loss.
The win streak started in Atlanta on Memorial Day – coming on the heels of a 10-game losing streak, the longest by a Red Sox team in 20 years. The seven straight wins matched a major-league record for consecutive victories immediately after a double-digit losing streak.
A week ago it looked like this season was starting to spin out of control. The Sox weren’t hitting, the defense was shabby, and the starting pitching looked atrocious.
All that changed, starting when the Sox rallied from a 6-1 deficit in Atlanta. Since then, they’ve gotten strong starting pitching. Last Tuesday, Jon Lester battled through six innings to get the win. Lester had to grind out the six innings, throwing 111 pitches. Sometimes, that’s what aces have to do. They figure out ways to win even when they don’t have their best stuff. On Sunday in Boston, Lester was back to his dominating self with a 12-strikeout gem against the Rays.
In 2013, the Sox never lost more than three straight games. That was due in large part to the starting pitching. Of late, the rotation has set a winning tone again. In the six games before this road trip, Brandon Workman was the only starter not to make a quality start (six or more innings giving up three or fewer earned runs). But that was because he’d been ejected after 51/3 innings of work in the “Friday Night Fights” game at Fenway.
The most eye-opening start in that stretch may have been Saturday’s performance by Rubby De La Rosa. Making his first start with the Sox, De La Rosa pitched seven shutout innings against the Rays while striking out eight. He became the first pitcher in Sox history to record eight strikeouts without walking a batter or allowing a run in his first career start at Fenway Park. He consistently threw in the upper 90s, and is lined up to face the Tigers on Friday. It was Detroit, you’ll remember, that started the 10-game stretch of ugliness with a sweep of the Sox at Fenway in mid-May. The Tigers outscored the Sox 13-3 over a forgettable weekend in Boston.
That team looked tired and listless. The team that took the field in Cleveland on Monday to start a nine-game road trip has a whole new energy. Xander Bogaerts, just 21, is playing like a Rookie of the Year candidate. Jackie Bradley Jr., 23, has provided Gold Glove caliber defense all season and hit his first home run of the year Saturday night. Brock Holt, 25, wrapped up his home stand with a major league-tying four doubles and two RBI on Sunday. He’s become so valuable the Sox are finding new positions for him to play. He was at first base Sunday afternoon – about three hours after practicing there for the first time in his pro career.
With the return of Stephen Drew, the left side of the infield will get a little older. Mike Napoli is expected back from the disabled list Sunday in Detroit, but Holt will get a chance to play at first over the next week. After that, who knows? These things have a way of working themselves out.
Two weeks ago the Sox were on the verge of going into “wait ’til next year” mode. Now, they’ve got us climbing aboard for another run of peaks and valleys.
The old cliché in baseball says you should never get too high or too low. In New England we know better. The Red Sox are the ultimate thrill ride.
And this summer promises to be no different.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.